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Deer hunting season extended to March in some areas to control spread of chronic wasting disease

Meghan Marchetti.
Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources

Deer hunting season is in full swing for much of Virginia. This year, hunters are being called on to help reduce the spread of a fatal deer disease, called Chronic Wasting Disease.

The hunting season has been extended to late March in 15 counties where the disease is spreading.

Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD is a neurological disease, causing deer to become disoriented.

“So, stumbling, staggering, spinning around, and then lack of awareness, and that’s going to cause them to stop eating,” said Katie Martin, the deer, bear and turkey biologist with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.

She said infected deer appear healthy for two-three years. “And at the end stage they’ll be really emaciated, just super skinny because they’re brain has flipped off and they don’t know to keep eating anymore.”

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal illness in deer. The first confirmed case in Virginia was in 2009 in the northwestern part of the state. There have now been cases in eight counties in the Shenandoah Valley and the New River Valley.

So far, there are no cases of CWD spreading to humans or livestock—but it’s similar to Mad Cow Disease, so there’s a concern that it could. The Centers for Disease Control recommend not to eat meat from a deer that’s tested positive.

The Hunting season continues into early January for most of Virginia, but in areas where the disease is believed to be spreading, the season has been extended to March 26.

Hunting is one of the best ways people can help keep the disease from spreading, Martin said, because it keeps deer populations down.

“We’ve tried to implement really liberal hunting seasons in the disease management areas [to give] hunters a longer season to try to harvest more deer,” Martin said.

Hunters in 15 counties can get meat tested for free. There are drop off coolers located outside convenience stores and fire departments across the Shenandoah and New River Valleys. Test results are usually available after two weeks.

More information on how to drop off deer meat for testing is available from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.

  • Click here for a list of sites in Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah, Warren Counties
  • Click here for a list of sites in Culpeper, Fauquier, Loudoun, Madison, Orange, Page, and Rappahannock Counties
  • Click here for a list of sites in Carroll, Floyd, Montgomery, and Pulaski Counties

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Roxy Todd is Radio IQ's New River Valley Bureau Chief.